Monday, September 17, 2012

The things they ask

As a traveler, one is invariably asked certain questions on a daily or hourly basis. Usually the first is some version of, "Where are you from?" followed generally by, "I have family/a friend/spent time/seen a movie about/never heard of your place!" and then a deluge of questions. It's been interesting to me to see locals perspectives on America and Americans through these questions, here are some of the best:

Is there no dust in America?

This one I just got recently. I was at my friend Rashid's house and his roommate, Ikram, was very curious about the states. Rashid (who lived in the states for 6 years) and I both responded with, "Yes, yes it does."
Ikram: "But then why do people wear shoes indoors?"
Rashid: "Because Americans never need to walk outside. They go into their garage, then get into their car, drive to work, sit in an office, drive home, and are already inside."
Ikram: "Aaaahhh, OK."

Ikram followed up with many other questions about clubbing ("you can't smoke inside??? How?") and money (see below), with nearly every inquiry and response ending with "Aaaahhh, OK."

On a related note, my Russian teacher told me, "I used to think that Bishkek was a very dirty city. Then I went to Philadelphia."

A dusty Kyrgyz road (hitching up to Ala-Archa with my CouchSurfing hosts)
Also, many older Kyrgyz lament the demise of the Soviet Union and wax nostalgic about how clean and well-kept the roads were and how much better off everyone was back then. The only thing they say is better now is that they have more freedom to move around and travel.

How many guns do you own?

There is a definite sense among most people whom I've met in Central Asia that America is a dangerous place. Several of the people I've met refuse to travel to America because they are afraid they could get shot without warning. The idea that someone could have a "trespassers will be shot" sign is unbelievable to most of them. I try to explain that it's not ALL that dangerous, but that yes, many, many people have guns. The next question is usually, "Why? That's so stupid and dangerous!" or "Why don't you/the government change the law?" I try to explain the culture of guns and the second amendment, but it's lost on most of the people with whom I've had this conversation. 

How much money do you make in a month?

Invariably followed with something along the lines of, "Wow! That's so much!" and then, 

How much does ____ cost?

Invariably followed with something along the lines of, "Wow! That's so much!" Except for meat. American meat is cheap, apparently.

From students:

I had the opportunity today to visit a local Kyrgyz school. I made friends with a local English teacher and she asked if I could come in today during her lessons on American Geography. The "lesson" ended up being me standing in front of the class answering questions about America (or Canada and New Zealand, for the 11th graders). Here are some of the most common:

Attentive students

What are some American traditions?

I told them all about Thanksgiving and Halloween and Mothers' and Fathers' days. The best part was explaining the meaning behind "trick or treat!"

What is different about American schools?

No uniforms. After that, there's quite a range. There are definitely some schools in the states that probably have equal or lesser access to technology and resources than this school.
Ishen and her classroom

Who are some famous presidents? Why are they famous?

This one seemed to be more of a chance to show off what they knew about the presidents. One student told me that he wasn't satisfied with my answer about why Teddy Roosevelt was famous; I said because of the start of the National Park system, he was looking for "he built the Panama Canal".

What is the biggest state? What industry is in your state?

After telling them that Alaska was the biggest state, one student told me, "I think Texas is the biggest." 

What is the weather/nature like in the US?

Yikes. Where? It's a big country.

Kyrgyz nature (Ala-Archa park, south of Bishkek)

What animals are in your country?

Bears. Lots of bears. And Moose. Side note: try explaining what a moose is to someone whose understanding of hooved animals is limited to horses, cows, goats and sheep. I'm pretty sure there are a few dozen Kyrgyz teenagers who now think there are cows with hands growing out of their heads running around the Northwoods...

Why do you like teaching Biology? It's so boring!

From what I heard from most of these students, their entire educational experience is via textbooks and memorization. A few of them know that labs and activities and demonstrations are things that Americans have access to, and described it as the greatest "problem with Kyrgyz education."

Famous biologists on the wall of the bio classroom.
There was another portrait of Darwin (bottom right) on the other wall.

1 comment:

  1. My vote would definitely be with you for Teddy Roosevelt's accomplishment being the National Park System:)